She was born Anna Louise Simpson in 1887, but most folks just called her “Miss Ludie” Thanks to her generosity a large tract of land owned by her family since in the early days of Gwinnett County was preserved intact, and is now a county park available for residents to enjoy in the years to come. This is her story.
Her maternal grandparents, Thomas and Mariah Sanders, were “Georgia dirt farmers” according to a family history, living with their family in a log cabin on 500 acres of forest and farmland on the Chattahoochee River, off today’s Jones Bridge Road, prior to the Civil War.
Her paternal grandparents were William Randolph and Susan Mitchell Simpson. Mr. Simpson, born in 1825, moved with his parents from North Carolina to Georgia’s Walton County by the 1840s, and married Susan Mitchell in 1847. They had 11 children and moved to Southwest Gwinnett County in the 1870s.
The Sanders’ daughter Elizabeth Jane married the Simpson’s son John Thomas in 1874, and together they had four children who survived to adulthood, sons Harry and John Taylor and daughters Maude and Anna Louise.
In the 1890s John Thomas Simpson left his Gwinnett family behind, moving to Alabama, but Jane stayed on the southwest Gwinnett farm along the Chattahoochee and raised her children there, later moving to a house at 410 North Peachtree Street in Norcross. (The house is shown below.)
Daughter Maude married and moved to the Roswell area, while son Harry worked on the family farm for many years. Son John Taylor lived in Norcross and became a school teacher, and also held political office – he was elected Gwinnett County tax collector in the early 1900s, and afterwards served as Mayor of Norcross in the 1920s.
Ludie Simpson spent her early years on the farm and then moved to Roswell, living there with her sister so she could attend school. She then graduated from the State Normal College in Athens (a school that trained women to be secondary school teachers, later incorporated into UGA), and later earned a master’s degree in education from Columbia University in New York City, awarded in the 1925-1926 term. Ludie had a long career as a school teacher, concentrating on teaching history, and never married.
One of her first teaching positions, in 1910, was in Brunswick Georgia. Later she taught at Joe Brown School and other locations in the Atlanta public school system, living for many years as a boarder in the West End section of the city during the week and returning to Norcross and the farm on the weekends. Joe Brown School is shown below, in an image taken from a postcard published years ago.
After her retirement from the Atlanta schools she lived in Norcross and taught at the local high school for several years. And she also had a side job while teaching – she sold encyclopedias door-to-door in Atlanta and Gwinnett! The photo below shows Ludie teaching at West Gwinnett High School in the late 1950s.
Ludie never learned to drive a car - she traveled locally on public transportation, using the bus and train system to get around, as well as riding with friends and co-workers.
But she took the opportunity to experience longer-distance travel when she could. For example, The Atlanta Constitution ran a story in the fall of 1939 noting that she and other chaperones (and the school nurse) took a group of Atlanta school children by train from Atlanta to spend several days at the New York World’s Fair. (The fair, featuring 1200 acres of exhibits in a park in the Queens section of the city, was focused on “The World of Tomorrow”, and attracted 44 million visitors over two seasons, in 1939 and 1940. It was honored with a commemorative stamp issued by the United States Post Office, shown below; the stamp design featured the event’s signature futuristic buildings, the Trylon and the Perisphere.)
She also traveled around the globe – making trips to such places as Russia, China, the Philippine Islands and Europe.
But Ludie always had her strong connection to her childhood home along the river. Elizabeth Jane Sanders Simpson inherited this land when her own mother passed away, and then when Elizabeth Jane died it went to Ludie and her siblings. Over the following years Ludie acquired the shares of that land owned by her sister and brothers, eventually owning 239 acres there.
As she entered her later life Ludie pondered at length what to do with this land that she loved. John Findley, who lived in the 1940s with his mother Sarah a few doors up North Peachtree from Ludie’s Norcross home, remembered that his mother spent considerable time talking with her friend Ludie about the various options that she was considering.
Ludie resolved to give the land to the Presbyterian Church, with the provision that they build a chapel there in memory of her mother, and that they never sell the land. The Presbyterians decided that they did not want to take on such a large responsibility and declined the offer.
Ludie then turned to the North Georgia Methodist Church and made a similar gift offer. Methodist officials agreed to take the land, with her stipulations, and the deed of transfer was recorded on June 27, 1973.
A Simpson family history website tells the story of events up to today:
Anna Louise Simpson died April 29, 1975 without seeing [the property] developed. She is buried with her mother in the Mount Carmel United Methodist Church cemetery in Norcross, Georgia. Amid the sadness of the funeral, an inspiration [of how] to remember her generous gift came to John Wesley Pittman, a volunteer caretaker of the property, who had become close to Miss Simpson in her last years. "Simpsonwood"a simple but elegant name, occurred to Pittman at her funeral. Pittman always felt that Miss Simpson directed him to the name. [Methodist church official] Jamie Mackay thought Pittman's [suggested name was appropriate and it] became official with a [church] conference resolution.
The conference center [that the church built on the property, in addition to the requested chapel] was successful at supporting itself for many years, but by the early 21st century it was a money-losing asset for the church, and they decided they could no longer keep it going. They received permission from a Gwinnett County judge to break the “no sale” provisions of Miss Ludie’s gift, and in 2015 sold it to Gwinnett County and the City of Peachtree Corners, who plan to develop it as a park.
The chapel dedicated to Elizabeth Jane Sanders Simpson is shown below.
Many thanks to Jane Holbrook, John Findley, Jimmy Garner and others in the Norcross community for their contributions of memories of “Miss Ludie” for this article. The internet websites simpsonhistory.com and Ancestry.com were quite helpful, as were various articles published over the years in newspapers such as the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the Gwinnett Daily News, and a Simpson family history document written by Judy O’Neill.